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VVMC Starting Hearts Aim to Create Community of First Responders

Kiersten Dobroth

What would you do if a friend loved one or even a stranger was overcome by sudden cardiac arrest on the street? Local nonprofit Starting Hearts and the Vail Valley Medical Center have recently teamed up to make that question far easier to answer.

Aiming to make the Vail Valley the safest place in the country to fall victim to out-of-hospital sudden cardiac arrest the partnership between the two organizations will increase accessibility to automated external defibrillators and first-responder education and promote cardiac health for valley residents.

By the numbers

Cardiovascular disease is a global epidemic and a leading killer in the United States. According to statistics compiled by the American Heart Association heart disease is responsible for one in seven deaths in the United States and 17.3 million deaths annually worldwide.

When looking at figures for sudden cardiac arrest the American Heart Association cites 356500 people in the United States in 2014 who experienced out-of-hospital cardiac arrest with a 12 percent survival rate for those treated by emergency medical services.

Vail Valley Medical Center cardiologists Dr. Jerry Greenberg and Dr. Nelson Prager said the reasons for grim survival rates of cardiac arrest victims tend to be multifactorial.

“Among the many factors that appear to have an influence on the outcome of sudden cardiac arrest the elapsed time prior to effective resuscitation appears to be the most critical element” Greenberg said.

Prager agreed that response time is an incredibly important part of the survival rate when facing out-of-hospital sudden cardiac arrest.

“Time is of the essence” he said “First responders are the most important for cardiac arrest victims and even 10 minutes to get there is too long.”

Model community

The emphasis on response time is one that the partnership between Starting Hearts and the Vail Valley Medical Center hopes to address by creating an educated community that is ready to help victims of the health emergency. Starting Hearts has been instrumental in introducing automated external defibrillators commonly known as AEDs or defibs to the community.

Public awareness remains one of the biggest hurdles in creating a community full of ready and willing first responders but Starting Hearts founder Lynn Blake said the partnership with Vail Valley Medical Center has helped spread the message and create more training opportunities for Eagle County residents.

“Generally speaking the program is receiving an overwhelmingly positive response and community awareness has drastically increased over the last few years” she said “Vail Valley Medical Center has an incredible presence and will play a vital role in marketing the program and encouraging first responder training for the public. Our goal is to have an AED presence in all public trafficked locations neighborhoods and in all law-enforcement vehicles.”

The partnership aims to increase the number of AEDs by 50 over the next two years as part of a campaign to create a safer community for victims of sudden cardiac arrest. While both Starting Hearts and the Vail Valley Medical Center provide CPR and first-response programs untrained bystanders can use the defibrillators as well as voice and visual cues explain the steps to providing a lifesaving shock once the device is turned on.

At your fingertips

Mobile apps have also started having a presence in providing quick response times for victims of out-of-hospital cardiac arrest.

The free-to-download PulsePoint app in particular alerts subscribers of a sudden cardiac arrest happening in the area along with the whereabouts of AEDS in the vicinity. Pulse Point App users can select their home location to get relevant alerts and notify the reverse-911 service if they would be willing to perform CPR in the case of an emergency.

“We're hoping to have 10000 subscribers to the app by the end of the year” said Alan Himelfarb executive director of Starting Hearts. “Right now the app is only available in several hundred communities but everyone should have it. We hope that what is happening in the Vail Valley will be a model for the nation.”

Increasing accessibility

Along with expanding the accessibility of AEDs throughout Eagle County Starting Hearts and the Vail Valley Medical Center are increasing the accessibility of health services to the public with the All You Need Is Heart event on Thursday Feb. 18. The daytime event provides $1200 worth of cardiac screenings and consultations from cardiologists at the Vail Valley Medical Center for $49 to anyone who buys a ticket while the evening portion of the event will celebrate Dr. Morton Mower inventor of the implantable defibrillator with a night of dinner dancing and a silent auction.

Greenberg has been one of the cardiologists at the event for the past few years and said that while screenings aren't the end all for early diagnosis they can start the ball rolling in the right direction for many attendees.

“Avoiding bad lifestyle choices and maintaining a healthy diet are the most important factors for cardiac health” he said. “Developing a good relationship with your physician and keeping up with regular physicals are also important in terms of early screenings and diagnosis.”

Learn more about the event and the partnership between Starting Hearts and the Vail Valley Medical Center by visiting